Minor Meteor Showers

In addition to the major meteor showers that are publicized and observed every year, meteor activity is occurring in the sky every night. Most of this activity is from sporadic meteors, or meteors not particularly associated with any known meteor stream; however, some of these meteors belong to minor meteor showers.

Minor meteor showers are generally not the type of meteor showers that are going to inspire someone to wholeheartedly jump into the hobby of meteor observing. They are also not for the inexperienced meteor observer. In fact, if you were a novice and you went out to try and observe a minor meteor shower, chances are you would get bored rather quickly.

So, what are minor meteor showers? There are a variety of reasons why these meteor showers produce minor activity and not major. Some minor showers are believed to be quite old, so that various forces involving the sun and planets have either greatly diffused or depleted the meteoroids within the streams. Some minor showers are believed to have orbits that are only grazing Earth's orbit, so that Earth simply catches the outer areas of the stream once a year. Some minor showers are believed to be quite new, so that material from the parent comet has not had enough time to spread completely around the orbit.

Although there are dozens, if not hundreds of minor showers occurring every year, it would be ridiculous to discuss all of them here. One reason is the fact that most of these were not discovered until sensitive electronic equipment was applied to the study of meteor showers. Even after the existence of these were known, researchers have failed to find any evidence that the vast majority of these have ever been seen visually. The second reason is because most of these could not be picked out of the background of normal sporadic meteors, unless the observer was accurately plotting every meteor...their rates are that low. So, the Author has decided to mention just a handful of the minor meteor showers. Some of these consistently occur every year during times when major meteor showers are not active and produce enough meteors to catch the attention of observers. Others occur at times when other minor showers are active, so that, together, a fair to good display can be expected.

The first notable minor meteor shower of the year is the Delta Cancrid shower. Capable of producing meteors during the period spanning December 14 to February 14, this shower peaks around January 17 with rates of 1-3 meteors per hour.

The period of February through March is not known for meteor activity, but there are two minor meteor showers active during this interval; however, both only visible to observers in the Southern Hemisphere. The first is the Alpha Centaurids. This shower can produce hourly rates of 3-5 on February 8. Although meteors have been seen from this stream as early as February 2 and as late as February 25, this shower would be very difficult to detect on any other night except for the 8th. The second shower is the Gamma Normids. The duration extends over the period of March 11-21. It peaks on March 16, when 3-5 meteors can be seen every hour.

Only the weakest minor meteor showers are active during the period of April through June, but the period of late July and early August can be one of the best times of the year to observe meteors. This is because there are several minor meteor showers emanating from the adjacent constellations of Capricornus and Aquarius. Four of the five minor showers active during this time peak during the period of July 28 to August 13. Although the strongest of these minor meteor showers can produce a respectable 10-12 meteors per hour, the Author has observed on several occasions in late July and seen 20-25 meteors per hour, especially after midnight! A few days after the Perseid meteor shower (a major shower) peaks on the night of August 12/13, another minor meteor shower, the Kappa Cygnids peak around August 17 and 18, and produce 2-4 meteors per hour.

After a busy period from late July to mid-August, things quiet down during late August, but the Alpha Aurigids make September 1 an interesting night by producing 2-5 meteors per hour. Even more interesting is that this minor meteor shower has produced a couple of notable displays of 20-30 meteors per hour in the past!

A very interesting minor meteor shower begins producing a very interesting display during the period of November 5-12. Called the Taurids, there are actually two meteor showers active here (a northern and southern branch), which manage to produce rates of 5-8 meteors per hour. But this meteor shower also offers a surprise, because it has a reputation for producing occasional bright fireballs.

December begins with a little studied minor meteor shower variously referred to as the "Puppids-Velids," the "Alpha Puppids,", and the "N Puppids." No matter what the name, visual studies have indicated that maximum occurs during the period of December 4-7, with a maximum rate of 4-5 per hour. This meteor shower is mostly a treat for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.